The abundance of culinary alternatives, especially in the tiniest towns, may be overwhelming; however, that does not stop citizens of Japan’s love for dining out. Everything from humble slurp-and-go noodle stalls to upscale traditional restaurants serving seasonal meals is available for every taste and price point. That said, here are just a handful of Japan’s most popular types of specialty restaurants.
Specialized Japanese restaurants include:
- Sushi-ya And Kaitenzushi
- Soba-Ya And Udon-Ya
- And More
General Japanese restaurants include:
- Famiresu Restaurants
- Kissaten And Coffee Shops
- Kaiseki Ryori And Ryotei
- And More
There is much more to Japanese gastronomy than sushi and ramen. Japan is unquestionably one of the most incredible places to enjoy exquisite dining, with the most Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide and the classification of Japanese food as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what makes each restaurant unique.
20 Different Types of Japanese Restaurants
Japanese food is well known for its characteristic ingredients, avant-garde tastes, and a strong sense of culture and history. The most delicious Japanese cuisine uses inventive ingredient combinations to create enticing and educational meals.
Furthermore, patrons of Japanese restaurants love and demand culinary excellence. No matter how big or what the restaurant specializes in, customers love Japanese restaurants for their flawless politeness, superb organization, legendary cuisine accuracy, and robust flavors.
Finally, suppose you’re wondering what the “Ya” implies after each kind of restaurant. When appended to the name of something, the kanji “ya” (屋), which generally indicates a house, signifies a store. So, for example, the term “sushi-ya” refers to a sushi restaurant or store.
Now that you know a bit of Kanji let’s take a closer look at what each type of Japanese restaurant offers and what makes them truly unique. As a result, we will start with specialized Japanese restaurants, many of which specialize in just one type of food.
1. Sushi-ya And Katenzushi Restaurants
Restaurants that specialize in sushi are called sushi-ya. Sushi restaurants may be divided into two primary groups. A modest counter restaurant with a few tables is the first kind. There, the sushi chef will prepare anything you order for you in front of you.
However, please use caution as they might range from inexpensive to quite pricey. For example, you can expect to spend around 1,000 to 20,000 yen in most sushi restaurants.
Kaiten-zushi (sushi-go-round) offers sushi on plates served on a conveyor belt; this may be highly fun and convenient; you can pick up the pieces you like without placing an order.
Furthermore, each plate costs between 100 and 150 yen, with the price being indicated by the color of the dish. Therefore, you can budget to spend anywhere between 700 and 2,000 yen at most Kaitenzushi restaurants.
It is a fantastic substitute and more affordable method of eating sushi. You can order something if you can’t find what you’re looking for. Just a brief remark about sushi-ya: if a sushi-ya is open, a Noren (half-curtain) with the establishment’s name is hung out; when the Noren is hidden, the sushi-ya is closed.
2. Soba-Ya And Udon-Ya
While soba-ya and udon-ya specialize in soba and udon, respectively, both soba and udon are frequently served in both types of restaurants. Most noodle meals arrive chilled with a dipping sauce on the side or in a hot broth.
The menu varies with the seasons, and customers can order noodles with various toppings (tempura, veggies, etc.). These eateries are almost ubiquitous across Japan. Most eateries’ interiors do a fantastic job of capturing the feel of rural Japan. Also, a single person’s bill can tally between 500 and 1,500 yen (or more).
They have a fireplace with a sunken hearth that adds to the ambiance by emitting the peaceful aroma of burning charcoal and the soothing sound of cracking logs. Take care to rehydrate after all that physical exertion by finding soba and udon at little restaurants on mountain treks.
Ramen-ya is a restaurant that sells Chinese-style noodles in soup with various toppings. Any tourist traveling to Japan must try ramen. Also, knowing what is available before visiting is a great idea since there are many different sorts.
The common broth choices are tonkatsu (pork), miso (soybean), and shio (salt). In addition, most ramen restaurants include an automated ordering system that allows you to personalize your meal by selecting the number and thickness of the noodles and additional toppings.
Tsukemen is another lesser-known choice to consider. The broth and noodles are presented separately in this ramen variant. The somewhat thicker broth is used as a dipping sauce instead.
This innovative dish, which is not nearly 100 years old, is worth trying for any ramen enthusiast. But, of course, the critical component of a ramen’s success is its distinctive soup, and most restaurants in Japan (and around the world) generally have their own recipes.
Gyoza and fried rice are two more Chinese meals typically offered ay a ramen-ya. Ramen bills can come up anywhere between 500 and 1,500 yen for a single person.
Finally, you won’t have to wait more than five minutes to be served at ramen establishments, which may be considered fast food joints. Additionally, Japanese people typically eat their ramen meals in less than 5 minutes!
Gyudon-ya is a Japanese restaurant run by gyudon (beef donburi or beef bowl) experts. Gyudon-ya is among the most widely dispersed fast food establishments in Japan. An everyday donburi meal called gyudon includes beef and onion over a rice bowl.
The dish’s sweet, salty flavor comes from the beef and onion being simmered in a blend of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake. Such a straightforward method that produces strong taste! Green onions are used in the garnish for color, and shichimi togarashi (a standard Japanese spice mixture) is used for a spicy flavor.
The most popular inexpensive but tasty fast food consumed by Japanese people is definitely gyudon, and the bill can come up to anywhere between 500 and 1,500 yen.
Eikichi Matsuda, the proprietor of the renowned “Yoshinoya” beef bowl establishment in the late 1800s, gave the dish the name “gyudon.”
Restaurants called “Kare-ya” specialize in rice dishes made with curry in the Japanese way. Typically, essential train stations have one or more ramen shops and at least one kare-ya. The sauce is thick, creamy, and buttery. Like most Japanese restaurants and pop-up stores, the typical bill of a Kare restaurant can come to 500 and 1,500 yen.
The restaurants are often modest and tidy, and the cutlets are wonderfully fried—crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. There are three significant ways to eat this Japanese curry (Kare): curry over rice (kare raisu), curry over noodles (curry udon), and curry bread (a curry-filled pastry). It is among the most well-liked cuisine in Japan.
Tonkatsu-ya serves deep-fried, breaded pork cutlets called tonkatsu. They may be found all around Japan, but Kyoto has the best selection. A bowl of rice, some sliced cabbage, and miso soup are included. These make lovely and affordable lunches.
Tonkatsu calls for panko, a Japanese-style breadcrumb prepared from soft white bread without the crust, instead of finely crushed, stale breadcrumbs. Panko flakes are more extensive than regular breadcrumbs and require less oil to fry. If you want to eat at a Tonkatsu-ya, plan to spend between 1,000 and 2,000 yen.
Yakitori-ya is a restaurant specializing in grilling yakitori or chicken skewers that are often cooked to order over a charcoal fire. The name literally means “grilled chicken” since “yaki” means “grilled” and “tori” means “chicken.” They are very well-liked by salarymen after work, and together with ramen-ya, they are a well-liked location to acquire a late-night snack after drinking.
A Yakitori-ya dining experience typically costs between 800 and 2,000 yen. The essential characteristic of this type of eatery is that most of the food is presented on a short bamboo skewer that you can simply pick up and munch down.
You may find something to eat at yakitori restaurants because of their wide selection of cuisine. However, they are often modest establishments that are very crowded at dinnertime and smoke-filled due to the inside grills.
Tempura-ya specializes on tempura meals such tendon (tempura domburi) and other tempura. Almost anything may be used to produce tempura, with fresh veggies and shrimp topping the list. Tempura is simply food that has been dipped in batter and then deep-fried.
Dining at a tempura restaurant costs approximately 700 to 3,000 yen, and the chef will recommend different varieties of tempura for you to taste, depending on the location. Many udon (noodle) restaurants also serve tempura at a lower cost.
Okonomiyaki-ya provide okonomiyaki and occasionally monjayaki. Customers at certain places create their own okonomiyaki on a hot plate integrated into the table. Okonomiyaki is also known as a pizza in Japan. They mainly supply Japanese pancakes and pizzas and are well-known in the Kansai area, particularly in Osaka.
Furthermore, a regular expenditure for dining at an Okonomiyaki restaurant ranges between 700 and 1,500 yen. The okonomiyaki is a robust dish excellent for filling you up on its own, made with a basic mixture of flour, eggs, cabbage, and spring onion and topped with various toppings. The fun of okonomiyaki stems from the variety of available toppings, which means “grilled as you like it.”
You may add pork, beef, cheese, or vegetarian toppings with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and seaweed as usual. One enjoyable part is that, because the grill is built into your table, many locations allow you to prepare it yourself!
Unagi is the Japanese term for “eel,” and – as you may have guessed – unagi-ya specializes in eel dishes. Eels are often cooked over hot coals and coated with a thick, delicious soy and sake sauce before being served with or without rice.
Therefore, unagi-ya are more likely to be busy during the summer, when eating eel is thought to provide heat relief. Furthermore, because it is considered a delicacy, a meal at an Unagi restaurant will cost between 1,500 and 5,000 yen.
11. Sukiyaki-Ya And Shabu Shabu-Ya
Sukiyaki-ya emphasis on sukiyaki, whereas shabu shabu-ya specialize in shabu shabu. Sukiyaki is a hot pot meal with a sweet and salty flavor seasoned with shoyu, sugar, and mirin. Sukiyaki is commonly made with naganegi (Japanese leek), shungiku green, shiitake, tofu, and shirataki noodles, in addition to thin slices of beef.
The other dish that takes its name from the Japanese onomatopoeia is “shabu-shabu,” which depicts the gentle swishing of the beef in the boiling broth.
The additional fat melts away when the meat is dunked in hot water, making it lighter than ordinary cooked meat and a nutritious meal. As you may know, healthy living comes with a more expensive price tag, making the budget to dine at either restaurant around 3,000 to 10,000 yen.
The chef cooks meat, fish, and vegetables on a big iron griddle (teppan) in front of guests who sit around the grill at teppanyaki restaurants. Teppanyaki restaurants are typically situated in big hotels and are rather pricey.
They are well-known for serving quality Japanese beef (wagyu), such as Kobe Beef. Teppanyaki emerged after World War II as a method to amuse tourists visiting Japan. Today, it is found mainly in tourist regions. Culinary American cuisine on an iron skillet in a theatrical display is also part of the cooking method.
More General Japanese Restaurants
You may be curious about the more common sorts of Japanese restaurants now that you know the numerous Japanese restaurants specializing in specialty foods. Each restaurant typically has a form of a family specialty recipe. As a result, continuing on the list, the following restaurant styles provide a wider variety of foods than specialized restaurants:
13. Izakaya Restaurants
The izakaya is frequently referred to as a “Japanese pub,” a derogatory term. However, unlike pubs in the United Kingdom and the United States, which convert from restaurants to bars throughout the day, izakaya is a seated establishment that serves meals until late at night.
Izakaya, like pubs, provides a range of tiny meals like yakitori, other grilled meats, salads, and other finger foods. They are among the most popular restaurants kinds in Japan, making them an excellent eating option for travelers. Since there is plenty of alcohol varieties at an Izakaya, a usual budget to dine in is around 1,000 to 5,000 yen.
Many can be located near railway stations and retail districts, ranging from modest single-counter establishments to multi-story chain restaurants. Izakaya dining is often casual, with food shared amongst the table rather than eaten separately. An izakaya’s menu includes a wide range of Japanese and sometimes foreign foods.
14. Famiresu Restaurants
Famiresu may be found everywhere, delivering a dependable and consistent service. As the name implies (famiresu is an abbreviation of “family restaurant”), famiresu is a fantastic low to mid-range alternative that offers a decent combination of price and quality.
Jonathan’s and Saizeriya are two well-known famiresu restaurants. Famiresu is excellent for groups. Many of them are chains and can readily handle large crowds. They’re also incredibly affordable so that they won’t break the bank. That said, you can budget around 500 and 2,000 yen to dine there.
Furthermore, many famiresu will serve both Japanese-style food and Japan’s take on “Western” food, such as omelet rice, hamburgers, and pasta, as well as Japan-specific foods such as Doria. As a result, this makes them suitable for big parties with various preferences; even the pickiest eaters in your company will find something to eat!
Famiresu is popular with students and single eaters. After all, practically every famiresu has a cheap, free refill “drink bar.” Moreover, because there are no fundamental limits concerning the duration of stay, you may work in peace on schoolwork, language study, or anything you choose with unlimited coffee on tap.
15. Shokudo Restaurants
Shokudo, meaning “dining hall,” refers to a group of tiny Japanese cafes specializing in what many consider Japanese comfort cuisine. Shokudo is an informal restaurant comparable to family restaurants in that they predominantly serve Japanese-style food such as soba, udon, donburi, and curry.
Shokudo is usually spotted near tourist attractions. However, Shokudo is frequently found on street corners in rural regions and has a beautiful homey menu. So come here for some excellent omelet rice teishoku or Japanese curry at a very affordable price. With that in mind, the average cost to dine at one is around 500 to 1,500 yen.
Teishoku refers to set meals available at various Japanese restaurants. The meal often consists of a bowl of rice, miso soup, a side dish (usually a tiny salad), and the major component of the spread. Some teishoku restaurants may serve these sides in fixed sizes, while others will provide them as buffet selections – known as “Viking” style in Japanese.
The main course is variable and can contain anything from grilled fish to shogayaki (ginger-fried pork) to fried oysters. Teishoku is available in various restaurants, some of which specialize in it, but also at famiresu and shokudo. Finally, Teishoku restaurants are trendy at lunchtime, and many diners plan to spend between 500 and 2,000 yen.
17. Kissaten Restaurants And Coffee Shops
Kissaten are retro-styled interior coffee shops in Japan that provide a more favorable environment for authors and other intellectuals to study, work, or simply read a book. Kissaten are coffee cafes that also provide sweets, sandwiches, and salads.
Some of them even provide hot foods such as different kinds of pasta. They’re common at museums, shopping malls, and department shops. Starbucks, Doutor, Komeda, and Tully’s are among the most popular and numerous chain coffee shops. Kissaten shops, like many others on the list, cost between 500 and 2,000 yen per person.
18. Kaiseki Ryori And Ryotei Restaurants
Kaiseki ryori is sometimes referred to as “Japanese haute cuisine.” Its refined multi-course cooking style focuses on seasonality, simplicity, and elegance. Each guest will receive an appetizer, numerous main courses, Shokuji (mainly rice, pickles, and miso), and a dessert.
Kaiseki frequently consists of more than ten courses and is typically served in a Japanese-style room with tatami matting and a low table with cushions called zabuton instead of seats. You could also discover a chair back without legs to rest your back on.
A Kaiseki lunch is best enjoyed at your ryokan. However, it is also available in kaiseki ryori restaurants and ryotei, which are pricey and exclusive Japanese restaurants. Many of the best ryokans provide kaiseki ryori as well. As you may have guessed, these restaurants can be more expensive, ranging from 3,000 to 20,000 yen.
19. Yatai Restaurants
Yatai is a mobile food kiosk that may incorporate sitting within a tent or pop-up stall and enjoying a meal made right before you. Unfortunately, their population has been declining over time due to the pandemic and the decline of tourists.
Finally, Fukuoka (the sixth-largest city in Japan) is especially well-known for its yatai restaurants. At yatai booths, you may enjoy sizzling hot ramen, fried vegetables, skewered chicken cooked to perfection, and freshly poured beer and mixed cocktails. Most tourists and many of Japan’s citizens hope to see these stores return to the streets.
20. Japanese Maid Cafés
Maid cafés are a subgenre of cosplay eateries that are primarily seen in Japan. Servers in maid costumes function as servants in these cafés, treating customers like masters (and mistresses) in a private house rather than café consumers. The waitresses doodle images on the dish and perhaps add something interesting to make it tastier.
Aside from the meal, you may also talk to the waiter or waitress or watch live entertainment. The best part of cosplay cafés is the casual, fun conversations with the waitresses. Maid cafés grew more prevalent in Japan in the early 2000s as otaku culture became more mainstream.
As a result, there has been a diversity of restaurant themes and services, although they are still mostly colored by anime and video games. Omurice, a tiny omelet stuffed with fried rice, and Japanese curry are popular menu items.
These plates will be adorned with customized graphics or handwritten inscriptions in ketchup or sauce. The dessert menu is where a maid cafe’s kawaii-ness, or cuteness, really shows.
Whether you wish to explore Japanese restaurants available in your location or if you want to explore Japan, knowing what Japanese restaurants there are should always be on your to-do list, and there is so much more than just ramen and sushi!
It should be noted that many Japanese restaurants serve much more options than mentioned on this list; nonetheless, the culture and tradition typically stay the same. The many types of Japanese restaurants all offer something unique to the table and will most definitely impress any traveler, thanks to remarkable ingenuity and rich culture.